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Your Praise Is Not the Boss of Me

Mar 30, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

martin-luther“The trouble with these seekers after glory is that they never stop to consider whether their ministry is straightforward and faithful. All they think about is whether people will like and praise them. Theirs is a threefold sin. First, they are greedy of praise. Secondly, they are very sly and wily in suggesting that the ministry of other pastors is not what it should be. By way of contrast they hope to rise in the estimation of the people. Thirdly, once they have established a reputation for themselves they become so chesty that they stop short of nothing. When they have won the praise of men, pride leads them on to belittle the work of other men and to applaud their own. In this artful manner they hoodwink the people who rather enjoy to see their former pastors taken down a few notches by such upstarts.

“‘Let a minister be faithful in his office,’ is the apostolic injunction. ‘Let him not seek his own glory or look for praise. Let him desire to do good work and to preach the Gospel in all its purity. Whether an ungrateful world appreciates his efforts is to give him no concern because, after all, he is in the ministry not for his own glory but for the glory of Christ.’

“A faithful minister cares little what people think of him, as long as his conscience approves of him. The approval of his own good conscience is the best praise a minister can have.”

– Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians

But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.
— Galatians 6:4

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5 Things You Can Stake Your Life On

Mar 30, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

alki-rock-waves1. God’s words are true.

For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.
– Psalm 33:4

2. Even if you let him down, he will never return the favor.

If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
– 2 Timothy 2:13

3. He is never late.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
– Romans 5:6

4. He is not slow.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.
– 2 Peter 3:9a

5. He loves you.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
– 1 John 4:16a

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Thoughts on Note-Taking During Sermons

Mar 27, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

p1020571I originally wrote this a few years ago. I still agree with it, more or less.

Ray Ortlund recently excerpted the Doctor on note-taking during sermons:

“I have often discouraged the taking of notes while I am preaching. . . . The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently. . . . While you are writing your notes, you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors (Edinburgh, 1987), page 360.

Ray adds:

Hearing a sermon is not like hearing a lecture. It is your meeting with the living Christ. It is you seeing his glory, so that you can feel it and be changed by it. Let’s pay attention to him and what he means a sermon to be, lest we miss him.

Some thoughts of my own:

1. I began rethinking what preaching is about the time I began growing disillusioned with the “6 Steps to Successful Yada Yada Yada” I had been fed in church for nearly 15 years. At that time, we didn’t often have to take notes, as a fill-in-the-blank notesheet was usually provided. This many of us would dutifully complete, filling in the missing alliterations, then when the service was over, fold in half, stuff in our pockets, and later find converted back to pulp when the laundry was done.

2. It is difficult for people accustomed to 6 handy steps with accompanying Bible verses to transition to proclamational preaching. I learned this first when preaching this way in a young adult service hosted by an attractional church that preached the other way. There was category confusion. The sermons didn’t seem bullet-pointy, so there was difficulty sensing the narrative. And, honestly, I really stunk at easing the transition.

3. I first began thinking about note-taking in relation to what preaching is when I heard Tim Keller, echoing Lloyd-Jones, say in a sermon, “I don’t mind if you take notes at the beginning of a message, but if you’re still taking notes at the end, I feel like I haven’t brought it home.” I thought to myself then, “Hmmm.” It resonated with me and how I both was experiencing the kind of preaching I found to exalt Christ and the kind of preaching I was trying to get better at.

4. I began discouraging note-taking (not forbidding it) and relieving my church from the duty of note taking (meaning, saying they didn’t have to) because I want them to see preaching in the worship service not as a lecture or as primarily an educational transmission to their minds, but as prophetic proclamation and as primarily aimed at their hearts.

5. Some people have said they process what they hear better when they write things down, and that’s cool. Some people have said being told they shouldn’t take notes if they don’t need to was a huge relief. They now hear better. People are different. I would say if taking notes helps you hear, take notes. If taking notes is simply for memory afterwards, I would recommend not doing so. There is always the sermon audio to refer to, and I provide my manuscript (which usually includes the lines people most want to remember) to anyone who asks for it.

6. My view of preaching is that it is an act of worship for both the preacher and the congregation. The aim of preaching is to proclaim and exalt Christ by proclaiming and exulting in the Scriptures. For this reason, I dissuade note-takers, the same way I dissuade a similar approach to the music time. In worship music, we respond to the gospel by exalting God verbally. In the preaching time, a congregation may not be exalting verbally (although “Amen”s are appreciated, and the occasional awe-inspired gasp is gold :-), but they are not passive in their silence.

7. The preacher ought to do his best on each sermon and preach his guts out in an act of audience-of-One worship, but it is best not to trust one sermon for specific results. Instead, we trust a pattern of and persistence in preaching to have a cumulative effect on the hearts of individuals and in the shaping of a local body. Note-taking is a one sermon act of trust. Just listening and exulting in proclamation trusts that it’s okay to miss some good lines or good points, because it trusts the Holy Spirit to be shaping your heart through the preaching of God’s Word.

8. Ditching the note-taking preaching ethos both elevates sermons and properly diminishes them. It treats a sermon as proclamation aided by the Spirit, which gives the sermon a supernatural weight. On the other hand, by treating all words in a sermon as expendable to memory, it puts the preacher’s words in the right place compared to the Scripture’s words. It diminishes the impact of a well-turned phrase and magnifies real revelation.

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Change and Grace in Marriage

Mar 27, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

Marriage-Jo-Christian-Oterhals-enhancedA precursor to bringing grace to our spouses is understanding them.

Mary Kassian gets this, I think, in a very grace-driven approach to the issue of female beauty (and of wives “letting themselves go”).

Not unrelated is understanding the expectations that take place as a marriage grows. Speaking generally, women marry men they love “just as they are,” yet with the expectation that they will progress, become more “domesticated,” grow in areas of interest and emotion, etc. They expect that the marriage relationship will help their husbands change. Men, on the other hand, generally want the women to stay just as they are. Husbands usually want their wives to resemble twenty years into the marriage the women they were on day one.

Some of the deepest frustrations I’ve witnessed among married couples occurs when the wife can’t believe her husband is essentially the same man he was on the wedding day — in fact, the things she found appealing or even cute then have now become annoying and sources of hurt — or when the husband has no idea where this woman who used to be his wife came from.

Men tend to be* hard changers. Women tend to be* constantly changing and growing.

Spouses need to understand this if they’re going to be able to bring grace to the husband who hasn’t outgrown his love for college basketball or the wife who once only wanted 1 child but now wants to adopt 20. We are wired differently, and in our cursed-ness this is a recipe for enmity and disaster. But in our gospel blessedness, it is an opportunity for the real love of 1 Corinthians 13.

* Your mileage may vary, of course.

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The Power of the Gospel’s “Already” and “Not Yet” for Right Now

Mar 26, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

Start-Living-In-The-NowMalachi 1:1-5:

1The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob 3but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 4If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.'” 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”

There is past tense and then future tense. There is “I have loved you” and there is “Your own eyes shall see . . .”

God through Malachi is addressing a half-hearted, spiritually corrupt covenant community. They have predicated their polluted religion on all that God is not presently doing. They are struggling financially and politically. They are muddling through while their enemies seem to prosper.

And God doesn’t say, “Hey, look around. Everything’s great!” He knows “looking around” is their problem. He beckons them to look back and to look forward.

This is a great reminder to us about how the gospel empowers us for daily living, even when we are in a bind or grind. When our world appears to be falling apart. When we can’t see our way out of the predicament or the grief we are in. The gospel bids us look back to what God has done in Christ on the cross and out of the tomb for his own glory and for us. “I have loved you” this says to troubled souls. And he bids us in the gospel to look forward to the blessed hope of Christ’s glorious return, our gathering together to him, our resurrection, our placement in an eternal wonderland where there are no more problems.

This is the already and the not yet of the gospel. This is the fantastic remembrance of what God has really done in history to save us and the fantastic anticipation of what God will really do in history to save us.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.
— 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

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Revival Is Always Christ-Centered

Mar 26, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

pentecostHe will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
— John 16:14

“In all companies, on other days, on whatever occasions persons met together, Christ was to be heard of, and seen in the midst of them. Our young people, when they met, were wont to spend the time in talking of the excellency and dying love of JESUS CHRIST, the glory of the way of salvation, the wonderful, free, and sovereign grace of God, his glorious work in the conversion of a soul, the truth and certainty of the great things of God’s word, the sweetness of the views of his perfections, &c.”

— Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions

It is the Spirit’s raison d’etre to shine the light on Christ. The Spirit is often called the “shy” Person of the Trinity because of this. He is content — no, zealous — to minister to the Church the Father’s blessings in the gospel of Jesus. He quickens us to desire Christ, illuminates the Scripture’s revelation of Christ, empowers us to receive Christ, and imparts Christ to us even in his own indwelling. For this reason, then, any church or movement’s claim of revival better have exaltation of Christ at its center, or it is not genuine revival.

At the front end of Paul’s excursus to the Corinthians on the sign-gift charismata, he reminds us: “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

What we often see in false revivals is the exaltation of particular figures or the worship of a worship experience itself. You can turn on nearly any religious television programming and see this work in action. Christ is given lip service but exhilaration, personal revelation, warm fuzzies, and spectacular manifestations are the real objects of worship. Charlatans are at the helm, and they purport to wield the Holy Spirit as if He were pixie dust. In these cases and others, it is not the Spirit stirring, but the spirit of the antichrist.

Edwards writes elsewhere:

When the operation is such as to raise their esteem of that Jesus who was born of the Virgin, and was crucified without the gates of Jerusalem; and seems more to confirm and establish their minds in the truth of what the gospel declares to us of his being the Son of God, and the Saviour of men; is a sure sign that it is from the Spirit of God.

Revival given of the Spirit of the living God, places Christ always and ever at the center.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
— John 4:2-3

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God Never Has to Go Looking for Your Righteousness

Mar 25, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

200px-GraceAbounding“One day as I was passing into the field, this sentence fell upon my soul: ‘Thy righteousness is in heaven.’ And with the eyes of my soul I saw Jesus at the Father’s right hand. ‘There,’ I said, ‘is my righteousness!’ So that wherever I was or whatever I was doing, God could not say to me, ‘Where is your righteousness?’ For it is always right before him.

“I saw that it is not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness is Christ. Now my chains fell off indeed. My temptations fled away, and I lived sweetly at peace with God.

“Now I could look from myself to him and could reckon that all my character was like the coins a rich man carries in his pocket when all his gold is safe in a trunk at home. Oh I saw that my gold was indeed in a trunk at home, in Christ my Lord. Now Christ was all: my righteousness, sanctification, redemption.”

– John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

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Why Not Rather Be Cheated?

Mar 25, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

why not blog imageIt is because of Jesus and his cross that Paul writes in Colossians 3:8, “But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.”

Wrath belongs to God, not to us. For this reason, we must keep a close eye on our anger and dwell in the truth of God’s Word daily to provide fertile ground in our hearts for the Spirit to produce the fruit of gentleness, peace, and self-control in us.

When we become eager to enact God’s wrath through personal vengeance, it’s often because we distrust God’s ability to deal with injustice Himself. Or we distrust Him to do it in a way that satisfies us. When we lash out, fight back, take up zealous causes, angrily pontificate, feud on Facebook, tsk-tsk on Twitter, and berate on blogs, aren’t we, in essence, saying God needs us to set people straight? All too often what we’re really protecting isn’t God’s honor, but our reputation or influence.

Jesus’ approach to personal wrongs would have us conquer the injustice by embracing its satisfaction at the cross. So instead of attacking the guy who takes our shirt, we offer him our coat, too. I’ll admit that Paul’s questions in 1 Corinthians 6:7 sting a bit: “Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather be cheated?”

If the cross is true, if God is sovereign — why not?

“Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

The reality is that whatever wrath remains to dispense after the satisfaction of the cross will be dispensed by Jesus Himself upon His return. The Book of Revelation doesn’t portray a passive, excuse-tolerating King who gives everybody a hall pass whether they love Him or not. Instead, He arrives on a white horse with a sword, vanquishing His enemies. But He does this, not us. So if we will truly trust that vengeance is His, that he will repay, we have all the power in the Spirit to let it go.

And honestly, that’s what some of us really need to do right now: Let. It. Go.* Because God won’t leave any loose ends.

adapted from my Seven Daily Sins: How the Gospel Redeems Our Deepest Desires (Nashville: Threads, 2012), 112-113.

(Apologies if you’re singing the Frozen soundtrack now.)

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“May I Go In There?”

Mar 24, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

image007This is taken from an illustration in John Phillips’ Exploring Hebrews commentary that has always moved me.

Imagine with me a Moabite of old gazing down upon the Tabernacle of Israel from some lofty hillside. This Moabite is attracted to what he sees so he descends the hill and makes his way toward the Tabernacle.

He walks around this high wall of dazzling linen until he comes to a gate and at the gate, he sees a man. “May I go in there?” he asks, pointing to the gate where all the bustle of activity in the Tabernacle’s outer court can be seen.

“Who are You?” demands the man suspiciously.

“I’m from Moab,” the stranger replies.

“Well, I’m very sorry, but you can’t go in there. You see, it’s not for you. The Law of Moses has barred the Moabite from any part in the worship of Israel until his tenth generation.”

The Moabite looks so sad and said, “Well, what would I have to do to go in there?”

“You would have to be born again,” the gatekeeper replies. “You would have to be born an Israelite, of the tribe of Judah, or of the tribe of Benjamin or Dan.”

“Oh, I wish I had been born an Israelite,” the Moabite says and as he looks again, he sees one of the priests, having offered a sacrifice at the brazen altar and the priest cleansed himself at the brazen laver and then the Moabite sees the priest enter the Tabernacle’s interior. “What’s in there?” asks the Moabite. “Inside the main building, I mean.”

“Oh,” the gatekeeper says, “That’s the Tabernacle itself. Inside it contains a lampstand, a table, and an altar of gold. The man you saw was a priest. He will trim the lamp, eat of the bread upon the table and burn incense to the living god upon the golden altar.”

“Ah,” sighs the Moabite, “I wish I were an Israelite so that I could do that. I would so love to worship God in there and help to trim the lamp and offer Him incense and eat bread at that table.”

“Oh, no, the gatekeeper hastens to say, “even I could not do that. To worship in the holy place one must not only be born an Israelite, one must be born of the tribe of Levi and of the family of Aaron.”

The man from Moab sighs again, “I wish that I had been born of Israel of the tribe of Levi of the family of Aaron,” and then, as he gazes wistfully at the closed Tabernacle door, he says, “What else is in there?”

“Oh, there’s a veil. It’s a beautiful veil I’m told and it divides the Tabernacle in two. Beyond the veil is what we call ‘the Most Holy Place’… ‘the Holy of Holies.'”

“What’s in the Holy of Holies?” the Moabite asks.

“Well, there’s the sacred chest in there and it’s called the Ark of the Covenant. It contains holy memorials of our past. Its top is gold and we call that the mercy seat because God sits there between the golden cherubim. Do you see that pillar of cloud hovering over the Tabernacle? That’s the Shekinah glory cloud. It rests on the mercy,” said the gatekeeper.

Again, a look of longing comes over the face of the Moabite man. “Oh,” he said, “if only I were a priest! How I would love to go into the Holy of Holies and gaze upon the glory of God and worship Him there in the beauty of His holiness!’

“Oh no!” said the man at the gate. “You couldn’t do that even if you were a priest! Only the high priest can enter the Most Holy Place. Only he can go in there. Nobody else!”

The heart of the man from Moab yearns once more. “Oh,” he cried, “If only I had been born an Israelite, of the tribe of Levi, of the family of Aaron. If only I had been born a high priest! I would go in there every day! I would go in there three times a day! I would worship continually in the Holy of Holies!”

The gatekeeper looked at the man from Moab again and once more shook his head. “Oh now,” he said, “you couldn’t do that! Even the high priest of Israel can go in there only once a year, and then only after the most elaborate preparations and even then only for a little while.”

Sadly, the Moabite turned away. He had no hope in all the world of ever entering there!

. . . Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Here it is, a tremendous word of welcome, extended to Jew and Gentile alike, to come on in and worship, not in the holiest place of the human tabernacle, but into the Holy of Holies in heaven itself “by the blood of Jesus.”

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The Word of Christ Dwells Richly

Mar 24, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

1362438014Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
— Colossians 3:16

What does it mean that the word of Christ dwells richly?

The word of Christ is rich with Christ’s graces, according to John 1:16. To have the word of Christ is to be rich toward God, because Christ is the all-surpassing treasure.

The word of Christ is rich in substance, because his Scriptures are Spirit-breathed, a match for every need, leaving no need of man lacking (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There is “all wisdom” in the word of Christ.

The word of Christ is rich in its effects, since it results in an abundance of myriad goodnesses, from teaching to admonishing to singing to an overflow of thanksgiving, and to more not mentioned here.

The word of Christ is rich with life, since it affords us eternity.

So let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Not meagerly or momentarily. Don’t just sip; drink deep. Taste and savor.

John Gill writes:

His meaning is, that not one part of the Scripture only should be regarded and attended to but the whole of it, every truth and doctrine in it, even the whole counsel of God; which as it is to be declared and preached in its utmost compass, so all and every part of it is to be received in the love of it, and to be abode in and by; there is a fulness in the Scriptures, an abundance of truth in the Gospel, a large affluence of it; it is a rich treasure, an invaluable mine of precious truths; all which should have a place to their full extent, in both preacher and hearer: and that in all wisdom; or, “unto all wisdom”; in order to attain to all wisdom; not natural wisdom, which is not the design of the Scriptures, nor of the Gospel of Christ; but spiritual wisdom, or wisdom in spiritual things, in things relating to salvation; and which is, and may be arrived unto through attendance to the word of Christ, reading and hearing of it, meditating on it; and especially when accompanied with the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, and which is to be desired and prayed for.

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